Commentary Archive

2014-2015 ITH season preview: Penn State Nittany Lions

With the start of college basketball season on the horizon, we’ll be taking a long look at the conference at large as well as Indiana’s roster over the next month. Today, we continue our look at the Big Ten with the Penn State Nittany Lions.

What a difference a year makes. After Penn State finished the 2012-13 season with a meager 10-21 record and 2-16 mark in conference play, the Nittany Lions showed last season they could be a formidable threat under Pat Chambers.

They pushed Indiana to the wire in State College. They beat Indiana in Bloomington. They also beat NCAA tournament squads Ohio State (twice), Nebraska and Mount St. Mary’s en route to a 16-18 (6-12) record and a berth into the College Basketball Invitational — their best season since 2010-2011.

Of course, that’s all in the past. But entering year four at Penn State, Chambers has proven he can make the Nittany Lions competitive in the Big Ten. And this season, the Nittany Lions could surprise, once again.

The big, glaring loss from last season’s team, though, is that of guard Tim Frazier, one of the all-time Penn State greats. The all-time assists leader at the school, Frazier provided the Nittany Lions with both on-court and off-court leadership — he was the team captain for three years, too. His loss leaves a lot to be made up for this season.

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2014-2015 ITH season preview: Rutgers Scarlet Knights

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With the start of college basketball season on the horizon, we’ll be taking a long look at the conference at large as well as Indiana’s roster over the next month. Today, we continue our look at the Big Ten with the Rutgers Scarlet Knights.

Last season was Eddie Jordan’s first at the helm of the Rutgers basketball program, and it didn’t come easy.

The Scarlet Knights struggled and lost to the likes of UAB, Drexel, William and Mary and Farleigh Dickinson — and that was just in the non-conference season. Playing their first and only season in the American Athletic Conference, the Scarlet Knights finished just 5-13 in conference action, ending the season with a 92-31 loss to Louisville in the AAC tournament and an overall 12-21 record.

And things won’t get easier from here. On July 1, Rutgers officially joined the Big Ten, a perennial power league in college basketball. And for a school that has not had an overall record at or above .500 since the 2005-2006 season and a league record of .500 or better since 2001-2002, it will face an uphill battle as it makes the transition from the old Big East to its new home in the Big Ten.

For Jordan, he sees the process as “rebuilding.” Over the offseason, the Scarlet Knights lost two starters in Wally Judge and J.J. Moore. Both were forwards and former transfers, averaging a combined 18.7 points, 9.1 rebounds and 1.4 blocks per game and giving Rutgers some experience and stability in an otherwise tumultuous season. Rutgers also lost guards Jerome Seagears and D’Von Campbell, who both transferred out of the New Brunswick school.

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2014-2015 Big Ten preview: Top non-conference games

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With the start of college basketball season on the horizon, we’ll be taking a long look at the conference at large as well as Indiana’s roster over the next month. Today, we continue our look at the Big Ten with ten non-conference games, listed in chronological order, that you’ll want to mark on your calendars as must see.

Minnesota vs. Louisville on Friday, Nov. 14
Event: Armed Forces Classic at the Coast Guard Air Station Borinquen in Puerto Rico
TV coverage: ESPN

The 2014-2015 season tips off with a battle in Puerto Rico between father and son. It will be the second-ever meeting between Rick Pitino, head coach of Louisville, and his son Richard, head coach of Minnesota, as the two squared off in a 79-55 Louisville win over Florida International in 2012. It also will be the first look at Rick Pitino’s 2014-15 Cardinals squad, which stands at No. 10 in the CBS Sports preseason rankings.

Michigan State vs. Duke on Tuesday, Nov. 18
Event: Champions Classic at Bankers Life Fieldhouse in Indianapolis
TV coverage: ESPN

The Champions Classic opens its inaugural event with an early-season bout between two college basketball heavyweights, and it will take place in the Hoosiers’ backyard. The Spartans lost the likes of Gary Harris, Adreian Payne and Keith Appling over the offseason, so the test against an elite squad like Duke will be a gauge on where the Spartans stand with their new-look squad.

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Big Ten’s top 25 players: 5-1

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With the official start of practice less than three weeks away, UM Hoops and Inside the Hall have again partnered to bring you a preseason breakdown of the top 25 players in the Big Ten for the 2014-2015 season.

Our selection process involved much deliberation to arrive at a list we hope will provide plenty of reaction and debate. The series will be broken into five parts and our fifth and final installment of players 5-1 is available below: (Previously: 25-21, 20-16, 15-11, 10-6)

5. Yogi Ferrell, Indiana (6-foot, guard, junior)
33.8 mpg, 17.3 ppg, 3.9 apg, 3 rpg, .8 spg, 52.1 eFG percentage

As a sophomore, Ferrell made a leap from bring primarily a distributor to one of the league’s top scorers. The Hoosiers put the ball in the Indianapolis native’s hands often and he accounted for half of the team’s made 3-pointers on the season with 88. He was also reasonably efficient from distance as he managed to knock down 40 percent of his attempts from behind the arc. Ferrell ranked seventh in the conference in assist rate (25.6 percent) and while his turnover rate (18 percent) was improved, it was still too high as Indiana finished as the Big Ten’s worst turnover team. Going into his junior season, Ferrell’s workload may decrease a bit as the Hoosiers have added several key backcourt pieces, including James Blackmon Jr., which should allow him to score more efficiently and also distribute the ball more.

4. Sam Dekker, Wisconsin (6-foot-9, forward, junior)
29.8 mpg, 12.4 ppg, 6.1 rpg, 1.4 apg, .8 spg, .6 bpg, 52.8 eFG percentage

Dekker entered his sophomore season with high expectations and while his efficiency dipped a bit from his freshman season, he was a big reason why the Badgers went to their first Final Four under Bo Ryan. Listed at 6-foot-7 during his first two seasons in Madison, Dekker has now reportedly sprouted up a few inches to 6-foot-9 and has the perfect skillset to play the four. He made 55 percent of his 2s, stepped out and hit the 3-pointer when it was available and also was Wisconsin’s second best defensive rebounder behind Frank Kaminsky. He also very rarely turned it over (10.2 turnover percent), which is fourth best among returning players in the league. Two key areas for of improvement Dekker as a junior are his free throw shooting (68.6 percent) and 3-point shooting percentage (32.6), which, if he improves upon both, could catapult him higher up this list by season’s end.

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Big Ten’s top 25 players: 10-6

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With the official start of practice three weeks from today, UM Hoops and Inside the Hall have again partnered to bring you a preseason breakdown of the top 25 players in the Big Ten for the 2014-2015 season.

Our selection process involved much deliberation to arrive at a list we hope will provide plenty of reaction and debate. The series will be broken into five parts and our fourth installment of players 10-6 is available below: (Previously: 25-21, 20-16, 15-11)

10. Dez Wells, Maryland (6-foot-5, guard, senior)
30.6 mpg, 14.9 ppg, 4.3 rpg, 2.2 apg, 1.1 spg, 50.8 eFG percentage

While freshman Romelo Trimble could be the x-factor for the Terps, Wells is the leading returning scorer for Mark Turgeon and should be one of the Big Ten’s most versatile perimeter players. He used 25 percent of Maryland’s possessions as a junior and posted an effective field goal percentage close to 51 percent. Wells uses his body very well to draw fouls and gets to the line as evidenced by his free throw rate of 58.1. His 14.9 points per game rank him as the fifth leading returning scorer in the conference and if Maryland is to rebound from a shaky 17-15 campaign and excel in its first Big Ten season, Wells will have to lead the way.

9. Andre Hollins, Minnesota (6-foot-2, guard, senior)
30.5 mpg, 13.6 ppg, 3.5 rpg, 2.4 apg, .9 spg, 47.0 eFG percentage

Hollins battled a severe ankle sprain last season, which forced him to miss two games and had him laboring once he did return to action. His 3-point shooting percentage took a large dip from his sophomore season (nearly seven percent), but he did get to the line far more frequently (49.7 free throw rate) as a junior than in his first two seasons. If he can continue to make attacking off the dribble a bigger of his game rather than just settling for jumpers, Hollins can take advantage of what is one of the better free throw strokes in the conference (84.1 percent). His usage has remained in the 24 percent range throughout his career and he’s a solid pick for an all-league type season as he returns to full health.

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Big Ten’s top 25 players: 15-11

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With the official start of practice less than four weeks away, UM Hoops and Inside the Hall have again partnered to bring you a preseason breakdown of the top 25 players in the Big Ten for the 2014-2015 season.

Our selection process involved much deliberation to arrive at a list we hope will provide plenty of reaction and debate. The series will be broken into five parts and our third installment of players 15-11 is available below: (Previously: 25-21, 20-16)

15. Rayvonte Rice, Illinois (6-foot-4, guard, senior)
32.7 mpg, 15.9 ppg 6.0 rpg, 1.5 apg, 1.7 spg, 48.0 eFG percentage

Rayvonte Rice hit the ground running at Illinois. He helped the Illini dominate their non-conference schedule and his scoring average sat at 19 points per game after piling up 29 points in a win over Indiana to open Big Ten play. Then came the rapid regression toward the mean as Rice only averaged 13.8 points per game with just a 42.9 effective field goal percentage in Illinois’ final 21 games. He’s still the No. 4 returning scorer in the conference, but if Illinois wants to play in the the NCAA tournament then Rice is going to have to make adjustments and find ways to be more efficient in Big Ten play during his second and final season in Champaign.

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Big Ten’s top 25 players: 20-16

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With the official start of practice less than four weeks away, UM Hoops and Inside the Hall have again partnered to bring you a preseason breakdown of the top 25 players in the Big Ten for the 2014-2015 season.

Our selection process involved much deliberation to arrive at a list we hope will provide plenty of reaction and debate. The series will be broken into five parts and our second installment of players 20-16 is available below: (Previously: 25-21)

20. Zak Irvin, Michigan (6-foot-6, wing, sophomore)
15.4 mpg, 6.7 ppg, 1.3 rpg, 0.4 apg, 0.2 spg, 59.1 eFG percentage

Last year we had Zak Irvin a bit overrated at No. 22 entering the season, but we also had his teammate Nik Stauskas dramatically underrated at No. 18. Irvin had a good freshman season – averaging 6.7 points off the bench while knocking down 43 percent on his three-point attempts – but he’ll have much bigger expectations as a sophomore. If Michigan’s trip to Italy was any bellwether, he’s ready to make the jump. Irvin averaged a team-high 20.8 points per game, shooting 70 percent on 2s and 67 percent on 3s in four games overseas. As a freshman, Irvin fell in love with the three-point shot. Three out of every four shot attempts last season was from long-range and he managed 146 three-point attempts despite only playing 38 percent of available minutes. Irvin will score a lot this season, simply because he’ll have so many more opportunities as he steps into the starting lineup, but don’t expect him to make a Stauskas-like leap into a complete playmaker just yet.

19. Deandre Mathieu, Minnesota (5-foot-9, guard, senior)
30.1 mpg, 12.0 ppg, 2.7 rpg, 4.2 apg, 1.6 spg, 54.4 eFG percentage

The smallest player on our top 25 list, Mathieu had an impressive debut season for the Gophers last year. His assist rate of 31.1 percent is the best among returning Big Ten players and he also has the uncanny ability to score in and around the paint despite his stature. Mathieu shot 50 percent from three-point range last season, but only 14 percent of his field goal attempts were from long distance. Just over 70 percent of his shot attempts came within 12 feet, where he converted at a 54 percent clip. While we admire his courage to finish around the basket, improving his confidence and effectiveness from long distance should help diversify his game.

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